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Implementation Is Not for the Meek

Implementation Is Not for the Meek

The best-laid plans can go awry if no one is responsible for results. In this interview, author C Davis Fogg argues that holding people accountable is the secret to successful strategic planning

Corporate executives have a hard time executing their business strategies because they just aren't tough enough, says strategic planning expert C Davis Fogg. A US-based consultant to blue-chip companies and the author of Implementing Your Strategic Plan (Amacom, 1999), Fogg says strategic plans flop because executives don't follow through. They fail to lead. They fail to hold their employees - or themselves - accountable for results.

And without that willingness to put it all on the line, says Fogg, the best-laid strategic plan will go astray.

Fogg, who between 1981 and 1982 was president of shoe and clothing manufacturer and retailer Johnston & Murphy, talked with CIO Senior Editor Elana Varon about how CIOs can do a better job of putting their plans into action, and a better job of making them work.

CIO: Is there any difference between implementing an IT strategy and implementing other kinds of strategies?

C Davis Fogg: There are substantial differences. In IT, communication is far more important than it is, for example, in marketing. The marketing people generally have good communication skills. Compared with other groups in the company, a lot of IS people are the worst. If I were picking someone to run an IS team, I wouldn't care if the person is a genius, but I would care if the person can communicate well. Businesspeople don't want to be bothered with a lot of technical talk.

CIO: What gets in the way of implementing strategic plans?

C Davis Fogg: If there is one thing that blows any [strategy] out of the water, it's lack of leadership. And not just the leadership at the top. At key points, there have to be good leaders who can lead down the line and get people motivated. That doesn't vary for any kind of strategy.

The second thing that's extremely important is accountability. Accountability has to rest on someone who can fix a problem, and people have to meet their objectives.

Another problem that is even more important is not having information technology leadership that sees 15 years down the pipe with the strategic direction of the corporation. Part of the implementation piece is to make sure you know where the business is going technologically, so a new direction can be implemented fairly quickly.

CIO: Most technologists would say they're lucky if they have a clue about the technologies that will be available in five years. How can they look ahead 15 years?

C Davis Fogg: People say their long-term vision is three to five years. But I know a company with a massive IT backbone - it's an insurance pension fund - that's looking at advanced technologies 10 to 15 years down the road. They're testing experimental capabilities in wireless data transmission. When the technology becomes usable, they'll be on track. What has to happen first is you have to draw a very broad vision of where the organisation is going. Once you know what kinds of markets you're going to serve, the kinds of customers, you can look internally to see what kinds of systems you will need. Then you need to talk to people in the research labs, asking where the technology is heading. What's going to be available 15 years from now is available right now in some prototype.

One of the most difficult things is getting people off their duffs to go out and talk to people, especially people who aren't in their industry. I'm an MIT grad. I go up there for weekends. Scientists love to talk.

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